LE MANS 24 HOURS: 2007-2016
Results (in class): 2007 (DNF), 2009 (14th), 2010 (1st), 2011 (DNF), 2012 (8th), 2013 (6th), 2015 (DNF), 2016 (4th) Watts’ most successful era has been in endurance racing with the Strakka team but, as he explains, it was a partnership that so nearly never happened.
“Back in 2009 Nick Leventis and Peter Hardman had just bought a Ginetta Zytek GZ09S LMP1 car having moved up from GT racing and entered the Le Mans Series, but needed a third driver,” he says. “They invited me to come and do the first race, the Barcelona 1000kms, with them but weren’t going to pay me and I had a paying job at Silverstone with the racing school, so I initially turned it down. They badgered me until I gave in and went and I ended up qualifying on pole ahead of Stefan Mucke and Darren Turner in the two factory Aston Martin-lola LMP1S. We finished fifth and they signed me for the year!”
The relationship blossomed when Watts’ long-time friend Jonny Kane joined the team. The Watts-leventis-kane combination became a bit of a dream team, especially in 2010, which was a record-breaking season. The trio became the first to win a European Le Mans Series race outright in an LMP2 car, and also won LMP2 at Le Mans, taking the highest ever finish for a P2 entry, in fifth overall.
“The 2010 season was ridiculous,” says Watts. “We swapped to the HPD [Honda Performance Development] LMP2 chassis as the costs in LMP1 weren’t working for us. But the HPD was new-generation and used all the latest tech and wasn’t much heavier than the P1 cars either.
“I’ll never forget the Hungaroring ELMS round. It’s a tight and twisty track and we got the car so hooked up and I nailed my qualifying run and ended up on pole, 0.4s faster than all of the LMP1 entries, and it was bone dry! We won the race by a lap to score the first-ever outright win for an LMP2 car, which was amazing. Then we went to Le Mans and it got even better.
“Dan Walmsley, who was our engineer at the time and has since become team manager, pushed us so hard that weekend. We were up against other HPDS too, so it was a straight fight, and the rival Highcroft car had three pro drivers in David Brabham, Marino Franchitti and Marco Werner. We ran qualifying laps every single stint, and to win was magical. I don’t sleep during Le Mans, it doesn’t work for me, so when I was up on the podium I was broken, but the sight of the fans below you is the strongest stimulant. I got my phone out and took a selfie and it’s the best picture I’ve ever taken. I was on the podium at Le Mans with my two best mates in the world and it was amazing.
“We had a party in the motorhome on the Bugatti Circuit after that. With no sleep in about 36 hours I was completely trashed after two beers and passed out at 2200hrs so I missed most of it.”
This is his “best picture ever taken” Watts took the final stint during the 2010 Le Mans event